A post-pandemic note from Chennai – The Indian Express

Chennai News

At its annual festival, when the curtain goes up at the Madras Music Academy for the evening concert, even veteran performers betray visible anxiety. The biggest of them all, the late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, would have already started singing when the curtain was halfway up.

This is the kind of prime slot where not a second is to be wasted and here was the young Ashwath Narayanan taking time off to speak. On December 16, at his very first elevation to the academy’s coveted evening concert, he dedicated the big break to his late guru, K V Narayanaswamy, whose birth centenary falls in 2023.

No one seemed to resent the young musician’s departure from custom. Unusually so because there is no dearth of sticklers in the Carnatic music circles. And of all the city’s chambers, the Music Academy is seen as the standard bearer. As an old timer put it, when you are asked to speak here, you can break into song. When you are called to sing, just sing. This time, however, everyone seemed a little less inclined to nit-pick and a lot more relaxed.

The public concert has returned after two years of the pandemic and something as basic as a wayside temple chant overwhelms the morning walker. As the day advances you can pick from over a hundred events — talks, lecture demonstrations, vocal and instrumental music recitals — across some 30 venues in the city. The pucca concert is back and everyone seems to be in a forgiving mood.

Subscriber Only Stories

At any rate, most of the organisers and half the audience at the Music Academy that evening could have connected to KV Narayanaswamy, who was active till the late 1990s. They must have heard him at his best in this very venue many times over. Aswath’s concert itself was very much his own, but his choice of compositions and sequencing had the unmistakable stamp of the master. From the calibrated applause from the audience, it was evident that the conditioned listeners were pleased.

As much as the performance, it is this kind of localised loyal appreciation that makes Chennai a great destination for classical music and dance. The seasoned listeners make what has come to be known as the “season” when the city hosts over a thousand events across nine weeks.

Listeners, local and visiting, love to congregate here for a tuneful transit into the new year. They have multiple loyalties — promoters, organisations, venues, musicians and equally strong pet hates. They compare, contrast, accept, recall, reject and rate.


If you are a business-like listener who merely concert-hops, you’ll miss the flavour of the season, which is incomplete without the banter in the foyer and the bite at the canteen. It is when you linger at the venue between concerts that you pick up the buzz. There are noticeable shifts this time. Most listeners seem to sit through the performance. Nobody is betting on how long this post-pandemic patience will last but for now you can take in the music without much ambient noise. There is less shuffling of feet and fidgeting and the cell phones are actually silent.

In the pre-pandemic years, quite a few would reflexively get up and step out for a cigarette or coffee as soon as the main musician yielded to the mandatory round of percussion (tani avartanam). This time, even on the evening of the world cup final, there was no exodus. Those who walked out, assured a seasoned listener, did so for reasons musical. When a zestful singer went on and on with his predictable flourishes, some got up and left not to cheer Argentina or France, but to send out the signal that they had come not for mere virtuosity. Some calmness was in order.

The consensus is that this season belongs to the thirty somethings. A new generation is already emerging even as the maestros from the last continue in fine form. Sanjay Subramaniyan is a star presence; T M Krishna is still staying away and Bombay Jayashri has chosen to skip this round. Both are missed and so are some proven musicians like Sreevalsan Menon from outside the city circles.


The best takeaway from the season is what the young practitioners offered. They seem to have quickly made the grade. Thanks to the virus, claims a seasoned listener. Did the pandemic turn out to be the much needed-sabbatical? The welcome two-year break from the pressure to please restless audiences.

The current experience goes beyond individual effort. There is a collective leap in the learning curve. The kind of creative learning the best of gurus like K V Narayanaswamy encouraged. This gentle elegant singer travelled widely and sang. He taught for many years at the Madras Music College and for two years at Wesleyan University.

What he shared with students was his assimilation of values from all kinds of music and his vast listening experience of Indian music that went beyond Carnatic to Hindustani maestros like Abdul Karim Khan and Amir Khan. The likes of Aswath must have done some quality listening through the bleak Covid years. A condensed virtual gurukula.

Carnatic music has had its share of reformers and rebels. Through them all, the concept of a guru has survived suitably tweaked from time to time. None has a quarrel with the G-word. “Mentor” does pop up as a suitable English substitute but “guru” stays on. Its scope has lately expanded through hyphenation to mother-guru, father-guru, uncle-guru.

Like its familial affiliates, it is a mystery how the indigenous “guru” chooses to appear in conjunction with the English “disciple” rather than the Sanskrit “sishya”. Next season a learned listener should tell us why.

[email protected]

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMiZWh0dHBzOi8vaW5kaWFuZXhwcmVzcy5jb20vYXJ0aWNsZS9vcGluaW9uL2NvbHVtbnMvY2hlbm5haS1wb3N0LXBhbmRlbWljLW1hZHJhcy1tdXNpYy1hY2FkZW15LTgzNTU1NjUv0gFqaHR0cHM6Ly9pbmRpYW5leHByZXNzLmNvbS9hcnRpY2xlL29waW5pb24vY29sdW1ucy9jaGVubmFpLXBvc3QtcGFuZGVtaWMtbWFkcmFzLW11c2ljLWFjYWRlbXktODM1NTU2NS9saXRlLw?oc=5